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Supreme Court directives on police reform

The Supreme Court takes the lead on police reform:
Prakash Singh vs. Union of India

(22 September 2006 / 11 January 2007)

On 22 September 2006, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgment in Prakash Singh vs. Union of India instructing central and state governments to comply with a set of seven directives laying down practical mechanisms to kick-start police reform. The Court's directives seek to achieve two main objectives: functional autonomy for the police - through security of tenure, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, and the creation of a "buffer body" between the police and the government - and enhanced police accountability, both for organisational performance and individual misconduct. After decades of public pressure, lack of political will and continued poor policing, a police reform process is finally budding. The need for reform is particularly acute as the archaic Police Act of 1861 continues to govern policing, despite far reaching changes in governance.

In 1996, two former Director Generals of Police took the issue to the Supreme Court, requesting the Court to direct central and state governments to address the most glaring gaps and bad practice in the functioning of the police. Given the "gravity of the problem" and "total uncertainty as to when police reforms would be introduced", the Supreme Court considered in 2006 that it could not "further wait for governments to take suitable steps for police reforms" and had to issue "appropriate directions for immediate compliance". These directions are binding upon governments until they frame "appropriate legislation".

The Supreme Court required all governments, at centre and state levels, to comply with the seven directives by 31 December 2006 and to file affidavits of compliance by the 3rd of January 2007. State government responses have varied tremendously, ranging from complying in time with the directives through executive orders, to expressing strong objections to the directives and asking the Court to review them. Others have requested the Court to grant them more time to comply with the judgment. On 11 January 2007, the Supreme Court cast away the objections raised and stated that its directions had to be complied with without any modification. The Court granted a three month extension to comply with four of its directives, while stating that the others had to be complied with immediately.

A number of states have taken the initiative to put in place special committees to draft a new Police Bill and committed to introducing it in the legislature in the coming months. It is hoped that these new pieces of legislation will be openly debated and ultimately reflect the essence of the Supreme Court judgment. The judgment is the first tangible step towards police reform in a long time but also only an initial step. What is now required is strong political will to introduce long-lasting reform and not merely cosmetic changes.

Click here to see the final submissions by Prakash Singh and CHRI

Click here to see the SC Judgment of 22 September 2006 and subsequent orders

Click here to see CHRI Press Releases

Click here to see CHRI Background Papers

 
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